Juan Diego Flórez is a very charming and accomplished guy, and not a good enough actor to disguise it. As moony dumbass Nemorino he doesn’t convince, no matter how many precisely timed pratfalls he pulls. This was a production that existed for one reason, and that was to hear him sing “Una furtiva lagrima.”
It got an endless ovation. It was an exceptionally fine piece of singing, but embedded as it was in a production with no other distractions, how could it not? This was your Platonic ideal of Wiener Staatsoper repertory performances: an adored star surrounded by solid but unexceptional ensemble costars, all engaging in well-worn dramatic shtick on a set that is older than any of them. The only exception was that your average rep night has rather fewer stage-orchestra train wrecks than this one did.
Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore. Wiener Staatsoper, 29/10/10. Production “after” Otto Schenk with sets by Jürgen Rose. Conducted by Yves Abel with Juan Diego Flórez (Nemorino), Sylvia Schwartz (Adina), Tae Joong Yang (Belcore), Lars Woldt (Dulcamara), Anita Hartig (Giannetta)
Otto Schenk’s Elisir d’amore is located in a sunny part of Italy where the peasants are remarkably clean and well-dressed. The set, though, has been going for 179 performances and resembles a pale beached whale, even conman Dulcamara’s wish-fulfillment wagon is faded. The blocking is steadfastly conventional and not polished enough to acquire wit beyond the most obvious drunk jokes. Also, re-stretch your damn backdrop, Staatsoper. The sky is wrinkly. But if you like this kind of thing, here it is.
So far, so repertory. The attraction here was the Nemorino of the Flórez. I’m usually nuts for him, but he really rubbed me the wrong way in this. Nemorino’s music gives him little space to display his virtuoso technique and high notes, leaving him to get by on his lyricism and charm alone. His singing is musically unimpeachable, but the tone is a bit narrow and nasal for the role. He can fill a performance with clever stage business, but it doesn’t really cohere into a character.
Absent his dazzling coloratura, I actually found him kind of smug and annoying. His charm is indeed plentiful, and bowled the rest of the audience over, but he seemed to know exactly how good he is, and that’s never attractive. It’s particularly not good when you’re playing a simple and sincere soul like Nemorino–tellingly, only Nemorino’s elixir-smashed confidence actually worked. What the hell am I asking for, I know! But the most sympathetic performances have a sort of generosity to them, and I found that absent here.
He did encore the aria, though. Of course.
|Yes, that’s La Netrebka. Only picture I could find, sorry!|
The rest of the cast was perfectly acceptable. New ensemble member Sylvia Schwartz as Adina missed the first two performances of the run due to illness. Maybe she had not entirely recovered; her tone wavered between sweet and focused and fluttery and squally. She improved as a the night went on, though, and made for a poised and accurate Adina of the lyric sort. She doesn’t have the easy coloratura or extension for a killer “Prendi” cabaletta, but her secure low notes bode well for her appearances as Susannah and Zerlina later this season.
Tae Joong Yang has a strong and noble baritone voice, but seemed to force unnecessarily both vocally and dramatically; his Belcore scored on pomposity but could have used more suavity. Lars Woldt was miscast as Dulcamara, with a fine voice but without the velocity to make the patter roll. Anita Hartig’s warm voice seemed overqualified for Giannetta.
Now for the biggest problem of the evening: the conducting. I have rarely heard such a messy performance. Yves Abel chose perfectly conventional tempos but nearly every number featured major coordination problems between orchestra and stage, including losing the entire soprano section in the Dulcamara entrance chorus, losing both tenor and soprano towards the end of the concertante Act 1 finale, and many, many places where the singers were a beat or two off from the orchestra. Recitatives featured odd pauses. It was BAD. That’s the only way to put it.
Lots of enthusiastic applause from everyone in the audience, though. Now I remember why I avoid these tourist-magnet repertory productions. I think I have discovered the proper place for that irritating word Startenor, though.
This was the final performance with Juan Diego but the opera marches on with various other casts later this season. This production can also be seen on DVD with Netrebko and Villazón in excellent form. However, my favorite Elisir remains the one with Alagna and Gheorghiu–cute 1920’s setting and he’s got that sweet stupidity, she’s got that bitchiness.
This was part 2.1 of my newly-discovered series Operas I See in Both Vienna and Munich that the Bayerische Staatsoper Does More Weirdly. Meaning I’m going to see the notorious “underpants Elisir” with Calleja in Munich in January.
Photos copyright Wiener Staatsoper.